From ongoing unrest in Ferguson, Mo., and the killing of Hamas leaders in Gaza to Pope Francis’ visit to South Korea and the ALS Ice Bucket Challenge, TIME presents the best pictures of the week.
Haider Al-Abadi must regain the trust of Sunni politicians and tribal leaders if he's going to unite Iraq against the ISIS threat
Even this Iraqi refugee camp is divided by sect. Displaced Kurds shelter in a large warehouse here in Bahirka, the members of the Shia Shabak minority have their UN tents in a line outside and the Sunni Arabs are gathered by the back fence. There is even a corner for the seven Palestinian families that fled Mosul.
Ibrahim, who gave only his first name, is living in the back row of Sunni tents with his wife and four children.
“Of course I blame the Iraqi government for this,” said Ibrahim, who worked as a day laborer and rented a small apartment for his family in Mosul before they fled June 10. “During Prime Minister Maliki’s time, Mosul was like a fortress. There were check-points everywhere.”
This heavy security in Sunni areas like Mosul created resentment against the central government, as many felt the regions had been occupied by security forces loyal to then Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki, who announced he would step down from the premiership on Aug. 15.
Maliki fostered a sharp sectarian split in Iraq, parceling out resources and ministerial roles to his Shiite allies and alienating the Sunnis who populate much of the northern territory taken by the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) earlier this summer. Having been estranged by Maliki’s government, the well-armed Sunni tribes of the Nineveh Province put up little resistance to the militants, allowing the group to expand quickly in the region. The militants now control one-third of Iraq and the organization is easily recruiting from the disenfranchised Sunni population. ISIS is believed to have enlisted thousands of new fighters in recent months.
“People don’t like ISIS, but they just hated al-Maliki. And ISIS was the only alternative,” said Ibrahim.
Now, there is a new alternative — Iraq’s new prime minister Haider al-Abadi, a veteran Shiite lawmaker also from al-Maliki’s Dawa Party. He has promised a more inclusive national government, and compromise with the Kurds. But to beat back the spread of ISIS, he’ll need to win over Sunnis bruised by years of Maliki’s leadership—not just the political leadership, but also the Sunni tribal chiefs.
“We are optimistic about participating in the new government,” says Hamed al-Mutlaq, a member of the Iraqi parliament and an influential Sunni politician. “But first we want a real change, not just a change of faces in the government.”
Real change, says al-Mutlaq, would mean ending the division of powers along sectarian lines, and a rebuilding of Iraq’s armed forces, which many say al-Maliki attempted to mould into his own personal militia. If these changes are met, he says, Sunnis might unite against ISIS. “We want safety and security in Iraq and want to get rid of ISIS, Al-Qaeda and the all the militias in Iraq.”
But while politicians are showing optimism, or at very least willingness, so far the Sunni tribes of the Nineveh Province have shown no signs of pivoting toward the central government from the leadership offered by ISIS — and some analysts are losing hope that they might. “The situation has reached such a level that I’m not sure it’s reversible. I’m not sure we can solve it,” says Maria Fantappie, an Iraq analyst with International Crisis Group.
Bringing tribal leaders back into the fold would require al-Abadi to decentralize authority from Baghdad to empower Sunni provincial leaders, said Fantappie. “But again, to tell you the truth, from the contacts I have with the Sunni tribes even this project is unlikely to succeed. Unfortunately, I think we reached the point where the ISIS project has become very attractive for many Sunnis,” says Fantappie.
Some, but not all. Maysar, a Sunni from Mosul living in the refugee camp in Bahirka, voiced worries that everyone who remained in the city will be accused of siding with ISIS when they are simply attempting to live under the new regime. The 35-year-old, who would only give his first name, says he was one of the few police who tried to fight back against the militants when they entered the city three months ago, and now feels like an outcast.
“When Haidar Al-Abadi chooses his government he must be very careful. He must deal very carefully with people of Mosul,” he says. Many in these areas are sitting quietly because they fear ISIS as long as the group remain in control, he says. “Yes, some people there are with ISIS. But he can’t just consider everyone who remains in Mosul to be a terrorist.”
(WASHINGTON) — U.S. officials say military planners are weighing the possibility of sending more American forces to Iraq mainly to provide additional security around Baghdad.
A senior U.S. official says the number of troops currently under discussion would be fewer than 300, but there has been no final decision yet by Pentagon leaders.
The talks come as American fighter jets and drones conducted nearly a dozen airstrikes in Iraq since Tuesday when Islamic State militants threatened to kill a second American captive in retribution for any continued attacks.
A U.S. official says the strikes came in the hours after militants released a gruesome video Tuesday showing U.S. journalist James Foley being beheaded.
"No just God would stand for what they did yesterday and what they do every single day"+ READ ARTICLE
President Barack Obama said Wednesday that the “entire world is appalled” by the death of American journalist James Foley, who was kidnapped in Syria more than 18 months ago and whose death was depicted in a video Tuesday.
The militant group Islamic State of Iraq and Greater Syria (ISIS) posted the graphic video of the execution on Tuesday, calling it retribution for American airstrikes against Sunni extremist forces in Iraq. The U.S. intelligence community has authenticated the video, National Security Council spokesperson Caitlin Hayden said.
“Today the entire world is appalled by the murder of journalist Jim Foley,” Obama said Wednesday in an emotional statement from Martha’s Vineyard.
Obama said the Middle East must work to “extract this cancer” that threatens the stability of Iraq and the region. “[ISIS] speaks for no religion,” Obama said. “Their victims are overwhelmingly Muslim.”
“No just God would stand for what they did yesterday and what they do every single day,” he added.
Obama called Foley’s family on Wednesday morning to express his condolences on the loss of their son.
“Jim was taken from us in an act of violence that shocked the conscience of the entire world,” Obama said.
The video also includes a threat to kill Steven Sotloff, a freelance journalist who has written for TIME and other outlets, and has been missing since August 2013. “We keep in our prayers those other Americans who are separated from their families,” Obama said. “We will do everything that we can to protect our people and the timeless values that we stand for.”
Obama said the United States would continue its efforts to confront ISIS. “The United States of America will do what we must to protect our people,” he said. “We will be vigilant, and we will be relentless.”
A Facebook page affiliated with the Foley family’s campaign for his release posted a message Tuesday evening from his mother, Diane Foley.
“We have never been prouder of our son Jim,” she wrote. “He gave his life trying to expose the world to the suffering of the Syrian people. …We thank Jim for all the joy he gave us. He was an extraordinary son, brother, journalist and person. Please respect our privacy in the days ahead as we mourn and cherish Jim.”
Foley “was taken by an organized gang after departing from an internet café in Binesh, Syria,” near the Turkish border, the FBI said in an alert following the Nov. 22, 2012, kidnapping. He was in Binesh covering the Syrian civil war for the GlobalPost website and AFP.
Foley, 40, grew up in New Hampshire, where his parents live.
-Additional reporting by Mark Thompson.
Pope Francis and the Catholic Church are not pacifists
Many were surprised with Pope Francis’s remarks earlier this week suggesting that he was open to military intervention to stop the ISIS’s potentially genocidal campaign in Iraq.
While it’s important to note that he didn’t outright endorse the recent American airstrikes in Iraq, Francis’s remarks that “it is licit to stop the unjust aggressor” do seem to mark a shift from the pope’s response to the Syrian crisis last September. On that occasion, he held a worldwide vigil in the hopes of stopping the violence and postponing American intervention in the region. He then famously joined his words with those of Pope Paul VI: “war never again! Never again war!”
But for those who know the intricacies of Catholic moral teaching, Francis’s openness to military intervention in Iraq makes perfect sense. For 1500 years, the Church has promoted the teaching of St. Augustine: that there can be no true peace without justice. This ancient teaching has crystallized into the Church’s modern day just war principle, which holds that nations only ought to enter into military campaigns against unjust aggressors as a last resort and only in limited scope and circumstances.
Under that paradigm, does the current situation in Iraq merit such a military response? Pope Francis isn’t ruling it out. Now contrary to the absurd claim by Vox’s Max Fisher, Pope Francis isn’t calling for the tenth crusade against the Middle Eastern people. Instead, he’s proposing a clear-eyed response to a critical crisis.
Despite what some might think, Pope Francis and the Catholic Church are not pacifists. To promote some kind of laissez-faire pacifism in Iraq is to be quiet and indifferent to the victims of the ISIS’s campaign of violence. To the contrary, the peace that Francis and the Church are calling for at times requires military intervention.
This nuance has played out interestingly over the past fifty years. Though the Vatican unequivocally opposed President George W. Bush’s invasion of Iraq in 2003 and was skeptical of American involvement in Vietnam, the Church did support American intervention in Iraq in 1991.
As President Obama and the United States contemplate the road forward in this current crisis, Pope Francis and the Church cannot offer American political and military leaders specific strategic solutions, but only broad stroke moral principles. What the Church does know is that authentic peace isn’t easy and is only reserved for societies who actively work for justice.
Despite the differences that will likely emerge in the details of President Obama’s and Pope Francis’s vision for American involvement in Iraq, both men will likely agree that peace—not pacifism—is the way forward in the region.
Christopher Hale is a senior fellow at Catholics in Alliance for the Common Good. He helped lead national Catholic outreach for President Obama’s re-election campaign. You can follow him on Twitter @chrisjollyhale.
James Foley went missing in November 2012
Updated 11:43 a.m. on Aug. 20
A video posted online Tuesday purportedly shows an Islamist extremist beheading James Foley, an American journalist kidnapped in Syria more than 18 months ago.
A graphic video of the purported killing, which the U.S. government believes to be authentic, was posted online Tuesday and quickly spread on social media. The video, which appears to be the work of the militant group Islamic State of Iraq and Greater Syria, declares the act “A Message to #America (from the #IslamicState)” and retribution for the United States’ intervention against ISIS in Iraq. Some versions of the video and Twitter accounts circulating it were quickly taken offline Tuesday evening, though the video soon appeared on YouTube again.
TIME is not publishing the video. The video also includes a threat to kill Steven Sotloff, a freelance journalist who has written for TIME among other outlets, and has been missing since August 2013.
A spokesperson for the U.S. National Security Council said Wednesday morning the American intelligence community believes the video is authentic.
“The U.S. Intelligence Community has analyzed the recently released video showing U.S. citizens James Foley and Steven Sotloff,” said NSC spokesperson Caitlin Hayden. “We have reached the judgment that this video is authentic.”
A Facebook page affiliated with the Foley family’s campaign for his release posted a message Tuesday evening from his mother, Diane Foley.
“We have never been prouder of our son Jim,” she wrote. “He gave his life trying to expose the world to the suffering of the Syrian people…We thank Jim for all the joy he gave us. He was an extraordinary son, brother, journalist and person. Please respect our privacy in the days ahead as we mourn and cherish Jim.”
White House spokesman Eric Schultz said in a statement Tuesday that President Barack Obama had been briefed on the video and “will continue to receive regular updates.”
The White House announced that Obama will deliver a statement at 12:45 p.m. Wednesday.
Foley “was taken by an organized gang after departing from an internet café in Binesh, Syria,” near the Turkish border, the Federal Bureau of Investigation said in an alert following the Nov. 22, 2012, kidnapping. He was in Binesh covering the Syrian civil war for the GlobalPost website and AFP.
Foley, 40, grew up in New Hampshire, where his parents live.
Iraqi forces secured the dam yesterday but operations to expand control of the area continued Tuesday
American forces launched a second round of airstrikes against Islamic militants near Iraq’s Mosul Dam Tuesday as Iraqi government forces looked to expand their zone of control around the critical infrastructure.
“There’s still operations to expand that control in and around the dam,” Pentagon spokesperson James Gregory told TIME. “Those operations are ongoing.”
Two airstrikes have been conducted in the last 24 hours, one of which successfully destroyed an Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) checkpoint, according to a statement from U.S. Central Command (CENTCOM). The other airstrike was unsuccessful, CENTCOM said.
U.S. airstrikes helped Kurdish and Iraqi forces recapture control of the Mosul Dam from ISIS forces Monday. The dam is of strategic significance, and thousands of civilian lives, including the U.S. Embassy in Baghdad, would be put at risk if it were breached, President Barack Obama said Monday.
ISIS forces have been making their way across Iraq after spilling over from Syria, wrestling control of several parts of the country away from the Iraqi government. The U.S. military first engaged with ISIS earlier this month as part of an effort to help thousands of Iraqi civilians who fled to a mountain range while seeking refuge from the advancing militants.
Many thought it would be the future of Iraq. Then ISIS came along
Just one month ago, the Chief of Staff to Kurdish President Barzazi and the Kurdish Defense Minister travelled to Washington, D.C., and policy makers wondered if, finally, the time was ripe for an independent state. The Iraqi province of Kurdistan was held up as what Iraq could be: a secure area with a booming economy and a what was thought to be a well-trained army.
After the American-led no fly zone in Iraqi Kurdistan in 1991, the Kurds focused on internal economic growth by taking advantage of the vast supply of oil. The Kurdish Regional Government convinced oil companies like ExxonMobil, Total and Gazprom to defy the government in Baghdad and invest in the region by showing them how stable their investment would be–while the rest of Iraq became engulfed in the rising number of IEDs.
A model for regional stability, an independent Kurdistan was the future of Iraq, many (including Vice President Biden) thought.
Then ISIS came.
In June, ISIS took over the Iraqi cities of Mosul and Tikrit, and quickly focused their sights on the northeastern Kurdish region. While groups like the Afghan Taliban receive funding through the illicit trade of illegal drugs like heroin, ISIS is much more sophisticated, said Steve Levine, a New America Future Tense Fellow, at a recent panel discussion held at New America. They are doing something that no terrorist group has been able to do so far: gain control of standard resources like wheat fields, oil refineries and dams that power hydroelectric plants. They’re organized, they have a central command and control center, they’re logistically sophisticated and they have democratized violence using social media for their own purposes. All of these things have allowed ISIS to continue their advance and drive at the heart of the Kurdish independent region, that is, oil refineries in the north, and so the bubble has burst on dreams of an independent Kurdistan.
As recently as last week, the Kurdish city of Erbil was attacked in a strong offensive by ISIS, and American diplomats living in the city were in danger. Fearing another Benghazi disaster, which left four American diplomats dead, President Obama ordered the use of targeted airstrikes to slow the advance of ISIS. Bolstered by these airstrikes, the Peshmerga have pushed back ISIS in concentrated areas. But in vast areas without air support, the losses of the Peshmerga have continued. Without proper training and experience, the Peshmerga simply have not performed as expected, said Derek Harvey (Ret.), a Former Senior Analyst for Iraq for General David H. Petraeus. The losses currently being felt by the Peshmerga may be due to the fact that after the Iraqi government pulled out of several towns, and that the Kurds over-extended their territory, extending their borders by almost 40 percent overnight, said Denise Natali, a Senior Research Fellow at the National Defense University.
At the same time that Kurds have been taking these significant territorial losses, the backbone of their economy — their oil industry — evaporated almost overnight. All of the major oil companies in the Kurdish region have left, and the economy has come to a virtual standstill, said Natali. More so, Kurdish tankers that are currently carrying oil have been operating in international legal limbo and sitting just off shore. Unable to dock and unload their cargo, a legal battle has began in American civil courts. To the delight of the government in Baghdad, the State Department has actively called countries and oil traders to discourage the oil from being purchased.
In fact, even if the oil industry was operating as usual, the idea of an economically vibrant Kurdish state was a myth. “The Kurdish economy has been propped up by the government in Baghdad, the United States, and even Iran,” said Natali. “Even if the oil industry is operating at full capacity, they would essentially be a client state of Turkey.”
The advance of ISIS has shown that Kurdistan cannot succeed without a strong Iraq, and vice versa. The U.S. airstrikes that have bolstered the Kurds have been closely coordinated with the government back in Baghdad, and the intelligence shared between the two armies has been essential. As for the Kurdish oil, it can only be exported if Baghdad drops its proprietary claims and allows it to be sold on the international market. Put simply: the fantasy of a Kurdish independent state has evaporated for the time being. But if the Kurds continue to work with the government in Baghdad, there’s a chance that they could prevent ISIS from spreading into Jordan or Lebanon and further destabilizing the region, and, if they’re lucky, they could start to rebuild the region — together.
Justin Lynch is the Social Media Coordinator at the New America Foundation. Emily Schneider is a research associate for the national security program at New America. This piece originally appeared on The Weekly Wonk.
A fight against ISIS militants leads to skyrocketing prices
Next to a criminal prison in Erbil, Kurdish traders hawk Kalashnikovs, pistols and even American made M16s.
“This is $1,500,” says Saleh Mahmoud, stroking the wooden shaft of a Bulgarian-made Kalashnikov. “Last week this gun was $2,000. The day the terrorists came near Erbil everyone was buying weapons.”
Mahmoud has dealt in arms since 1991, when the Kurds were battling Saddam Hussein’s Iraqi army. In more than two decades in the arms trade, he says he’s never seen prices skyrocket like they did 10 days ago as Islamist militants showed up on the Kurds’ doorstep. And while Kurdish fighters, known as the peshmerga, retook the critical Mosul Dam from the militant group Islamic State of Iraq and Greater Syria (ISIS) on Monday, the fighting against the extremists is far from over. The peshmerga were only able to retake the dam with assistance from the Iraqi national army and heavy American air cover. The fact that it took three armed forces to recapture just one structure from ISIS shows the strength of the militants—and doesn’t bode well for Iraqi and Kurdish forces. The semi-autonomous Kurds are considered to have the most capable army in Iraq, but they have mostly light artillery, and no air force.
Outside the headquarters of Asayesh, the peshmerga’s intelligence arm, three large Kurdish men stand on guard with Russian made weapons—a couple of aging Kalashnikovs and a newer Izhmash. A lot of the weapons carried by peshmerga forces were looted from Saddam’s army bases in 1990s, and they weren’t top shelf even then.
President Barack Obama said Monday that the United States had “urgently provided additional arms and assistance to Iraqi forces, including Kurdish and Iraqi security forces who are fighting on the front lines.” But Colonel Hersh Muhsin, who heads the Asayesh munitions unit in Erbil, says he hasn’t seen any new guns.
“Come with me,” he says, opening a closest with a few RPGs and rifles leaning against the wall and mounted PKC machine gun sitting on the floor. “These RPGs are useless against America-made armored vehicles. On the front lines, ISIS all have American made weapons, and we do not.”
But while they may be poorly armed, Muhsin says the peshmerga are strong because they are fighting to protect their land. “Less important is the gun, and more important is the strength of the ideology of the hand that holds it,” he says.
The peshmerga are known for being passionate fighters, raised on guns and nationalism in the mountains of Kurdistan, but Muhsin may be underestimating the conviction of the ISIS fighters who pledge their allegiance to the group’s leader, Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, and fight for the dream of an Islamic caliphate.
The lack of budget and supplies has pushed Kurdish fighters to buy their own guns. That, combined with the fear of the general population, pushed up weapons prices early in the month.
“But now people are looking to the media which says everyday that France, Germany and America will send weapons,” Muhsin says.
Back at the market, the buyers and sellers say that prices have finally dipped, a sign people here have faith the weapons are coming from aboard. The market is filled with peshmerga fighters buying their own guns, but everyone here calls for the international community to give more.
“I bought this to fight ISIS,” says Niro Talat, a 34-year-old driver who managed to find $3,000 to buy a brand-new M-16. He twists the sleek black weapon in his hands. “This is better than a Kalashnikov. It’s more accurate. It’s a good weapon.”
No one here seems to know how a new M-16, stamped, “Property of the U.S. GOVT,” ended-up in this market, but it raises questions about the fate of foreign arms provided to the Kurds to fight ISIS.
The position of this gun market, a few hundred meters from a criminal prison, may be an indication of the Kurdish forethought when comes to weapons. “Do you want to take a picture of an RPG,” asks a man leaning into the car wearing military fatigues and the very-popular-here faux ‘US Army’ shirt. “Come, it’s in my house.”
The peshmerga were born of Kurdish resistance and trained as guerilla fighters to protect their mountainous territory and fight for independence. The Kurdish leaders are preaching about ISIS’s brutality and the militants’ superior American arms, demanding equally good weapons to fight the extremists.
But where will those guns be pointed when—or if—ISIS is defeated? The goal of theses Kurdish fighters has always been an independent Kurdistan.
The militants are on the defensive following a series of successful U.S. airstrikes
The Sunni extremist group that is ravaging large swaths of northern Iraq has warned it will attack Americans “in any place” should U.S. airstrikes kill any of its members, Reuters reports.
American airstrikes began earlier this month in an attempt to help thousands of people—members of the Yazidi, an ethnic minority in the region—who were trapped on a mountain range by fighters of the Islamic State of Iraq and Greater Syria (ISIS). President Barack Obama formally told Congress on Sunday that he had sanctioned additional air raids, though he said they would be limited. The new strikes, requested by the Iraqi government, were intended to help Iraqi and Kurdish security forces who had been battling the militants for control of the strategic Mosul Dam. Aided by U.S. air support, these troops successfully recaptured it on Aug. 18.
U.S. Central Command said at least 14 airstrikes were conducted on Sunday, and had successfully damaged or destroyed ISIS vehicles and one of its checkpoints. The group’s latest missive might reflect its anger towards the U.S., whose aerial support has allowed the Iraqi and Kurdish forces to reclaim some of the territory that ISIS had seized in a lightning offensive in June.
Reuters adds that the purported ISIS video shows an image of an American, who was beheaded during the U.S.-led war in Iraq that ended in 2011. The 45-second film also shows people being shot by snipers and vehicles being blown up. Near the start of the clip, the group’s black flag appears next to an American one. A message, in English, then flashes up: “We will drown all of you in blood.” A crude splatter of blood then appears on the U.S. flag to emphasize the point.
The militants have focused on territorial gains in parts of eastern Syria and northern Iraq, claiming them in its bid to establish a caliphate, or an Islamic state. But unlike al-Qaeda, which deemed this off-shoot too extreme, ISIS has not yet directly attacked the West.